Expanding the criteria for auto-protection has been discussed in the past: Should we automatically protect all questions with more than N answers?
But I think that discussion addresses the wrong problem:
Protecting a question with a large number of answers doesn't do anything to fix the problems caused by having a large number of answers. In most cases, the question should still be either cleaned up or closed.
Large numbers of answers does not necessarily indicate a honeypot for misguided newbies. While a fair number of these do fall into bikeshed territory, that's not universally true - and blocking outsiders from answering a question just because a lot of "insiders" have already gotten to it doesn't solve anything.
The occasional drive-by answer on an old, answered question isn't that much of a problem and we have existing tools for identifying and handling them.
Generally, the existing criteria for auto-protect are sufficient for perpetually-popular posts. However, there is a scenario that isn't addressed by them: a question that sees a sudden, extreme increase in popularity and as a result attracts a large number of non-answers that must then be deleted. The classic case is a post that rises to the top of Reddit for a while, although we've seen similar effects from other sources (and even generated internally from links on our own Hot List or meta posts).
Let me be clear: these 15 minutes of fame aren't inherently bad: a good question that attracts a lot of attention can also attract some really great answers. But there's always that temptation to just participate even when you've nothing of value to contribute - and moderating a sudden influx of such answers can be troublesome, particularly on smaller sites:
If no moderator is around, it falls on trusted members of the community to remove non-answers. We're working on distributing the load here, but this will still be labor-intensive on smaller sites.
When your first experience on a site is having your post deleted, it doesn't exactly endear you to the community there. Yes, you may well have Learned A Valuable Lesson from it, but we could be a bit more gentle about teaching that.
The communities on these sites, knowing full-well how troublesome such answers can be, may try to proactively Protect questions that start to garner a lot of attention - potentially locking out good answers on questions that wouldn't actually be problematic if left to themselves.
That last one in particular concerns me. I think most users use their privilege responsibly, but the notion that "hot" questions need preemptive protection has proved stronger than common sense here - and I don't think we should fight it. Instead, let's...
Expand the existing heuristics to protect questions that are demonstrating problematic tendencies, but haven't yet been proven problematic
As explained in the title, this means protecting questions that've gotten more than N answers (deleted or otherwise) in a 24-hour period from users who've earned less than 10 reputation on the site (excluding any association bonuses). This would be a check made when the answer is posted - so if N is 3, the third answer from a new user would block further answers.
On most sites, N can be fairly large - a threshold of 5 would protect questions like these on Stack Overflow:
- Should I use jMonkeyEngine 3 (jME 3) or Unity 4.3 to teach game programming to my children?
On certain sites, we might want to set the threshold significantly lower. A threshold of 4 would protect questions like these on The Workplace:
- What can I do to quickly adapt to a new role which appears to require knowledge that I don't yet have?
- What is a 'friendly' way to let managers know that having good developers is a privilege?
- Dad jokingly told boss that I called him dumb to my shock
- How can I respond to "Why shouldn't we hire you?"
- Solo Developer at a Startup
- How do I stay awake during work without the use of coffee?
- Project Manager asks for complete 100% confidence everytime committing code
Coupled with this change, I think it also makes sense to expand the existing Protect privilege to allow users to unprotect questions that were automatically protected, thus allowing them to override the system if it becomes overzealous.